The International Legal Protection of the Global Climate: 30 Years after the Maltese UN Climate Change Initiative University of Malta, Msida - Friday, 16 November 2018

Reference Number:  , Press Release Issue Date: Nov 16, 2018
 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Students,

Back in 1988 Dr James Hansen, an American atmospheric physicist and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, warned that there was indeed a scientific basis to the theory that human activities would bring about drastic changes to the climate due to the process we now refer to as ‘the greenhouse effect’.

That summer, the United States suffered one of its worst and longest droughts, causing billions of dollars in damages in North America. Dr Hansen’s advice could not have been delivered at a more appropriate moment.

In the middle of a Presidential campaign, George Bush Senior promised to use what he termed “the White House effect” to combat “the greenhouse effect”.  Four years later, when he was President, the United States became a founding member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In that same period, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme to provide policymakers with scientific assessments on climate change.

That same summer, Malta took the initiative to request the inclusion of climate change on the Agenda of the 43rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, proposing that an appropriate high-level mechanism should be established to address the cause and effects of this phenomenon on humankind.

This mechanism would be tasked to propose legal and political measures to address global warming and its environmental and socio-economic implications.

Twenty-one years earlier, Malta had already made a ground-breaking proposal at the United Nations to safeguard the oceans beyond national jurisdiction as a common heritage of mankind. It was now necessary to ensure that the climate, too, is protected for present and future generations.

Once again, Malta confirmed that being in a unique position because of their size and lack of major vested interests, small States are perfectly able to contribute to the work of the United Nations for the benefit of all.

Following months of intense diplomatic work, Malta’s proposal was formally introduced to the General Assembly on the 24th of October 1988 by the Foreign Minister of the time, Vincent Tabone.

On the 6th of December 1988, Malta’s Resolution on the “Protection of Global Climate for Present and Future Generations of Mankind” was unanimously adopted in the plenary meeting of the General Assembly. And here, permit me to pay tribute to the efforts of Professor David Attard, who was the brainpower behind this initiative, and who advised the Prime Minister of the time to take this forward at the United Nations.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Malta’s initiative on climate change was visionary, in many ways. First, our country could already foresee that changing global climate patterns threaten present and future generations with potentially severe economic and social consequences.

Climate being an essential condition which sustains life on earth, any changes to it pose a threat to human health, to agriculture, as well as to animal and marine life. Changes in climate impact a country’s economic growth, erode food security, and may trigger conflict, mass migration, and hunger.

Malta’s initiative called for programmes and studies on the social and economic impact of climate change, and response strategies to delay, limit, or mitigate the impact of climate change.

It also called for the identification and possible strengthening of relevant existing international legal instruments having a bearing on climate, and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate.

Furthermore, Malta recognised that climate change affects humanity and should be addressed within a global framework to take into account the vital interests of mankind. It called upon NGOs, industry, and other productive sectors to play their due role.

Malta’s drive was the beginning of a process that led to three important international legal instruments: the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Malta is also proud to recall that, the Executive Session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting of 2015, was instrumental in sustaining the momentum to achieve this remarkable multilateral legal instrument that paves the way for a carbon neutral planet by the end of the century. That Meeting was held in Malta on the eve of COP 21 that gave the world the Paris Agreement

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Where do we stand now? Today, the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals are considered the foundations of global efforts to address climate change.

We are now three weeks away from the 24th meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - also known as COP24 - in Poland. It is the next key moment for international climate negotiations.

As members of the European Union, our ambition is for this Meeting to agree on important implementation guidelines for operationalising the Paris Agreement.  We are calling this the "rulebook".

It is necessary for COP24 to deliver confidence that we are on track to implementing the Paris agreement, flexible enough to reflect relevant differences in the Parties' capacities, and dynamic enough to ensure that all Parties are improving their performance over time.

Today, climate change is widely recognised as a major threat to the prosperity and wellbeing of humankind.

Increased concern about the implications of climate change for international security and stability are pushing the European Union’s actions on climate diplomacy, not only to better coordinate between EU Member States, but also as a platform for further action at the United Nations.

Malta’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion is actively engaged in the EU’s climate diplomacy, as climate diplomats meet regularly to coordinate policies, while us EU Foreign Ministers frequently touch upon this subject in Foreign Affairs Council meetings.

Malta is also supporting small island States on climate action, through capacity building offered by the Commonwealth Small States Centre of Excellence, which is based here.

To highlight the growing importance of climate diplomacy, Malta has appointed its own Ambassador for Climate, Professor Simone Borg, who is with us today. I take this opportunity to also thank the previous Ambassador for Climate, Mr Michael Zammit-Cutajar, who for many years served as the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Is all this enough? United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recently noted that [QUOTE] “climate change is moving faster than our efforts to address it” [UNQUOTE].

According to the World Meteorological Organization, the past 20 years included 18 of the warmest years since 1850, the year when methodical thermometer-based recording began. Once again, it feels like history is repeating itself. As in 1988, nature itself is warning us that it is necessary for the world to take another major step to address climate change.

Once again, it is scientists who are warning us, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that it is time for the world to make a bigger effort to go beyond the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Malta is already one of those countries that are working towards a shift of paradigm on climate action. Last year, Malta joined the One Planet coalition meeting in Paris to discuss the benefits of cleaner, climate-smart growth.

This is expected to bring new jobs, economic opportunities, innovation and, above all, improved well-being for people worldwide. Even where some governments are hesitant to tread, civil society and private enterprise are mobilising.

This shift of paradigm will now be the focus of a United Nations Climate Summit to be held in New York in September next year. It is time for us all to, once again, put climate action at the top of the international agenda.

I thank you for your kind attention.